Dispatch, New Orleans: The Ken Burns effect

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Travel Weekly's Michelle Baran is on a Tauck jazz tour in New Orleans. Her second and final dispatch follows. Click to read her first dispatch. 

When Tauck announced just more than a year ago that it had signed a multiyear partnership with documentary filmmaker Ken Burns and his collaborator Dayton Duncan to create Ken Burns American Journeys, my first thought was, “Hmmm, that seems like a sizeable coup for Tauck.”

Last week, I realized just to what extent this is a unique opportunity for Tauck and its travelers.

“I have up until this moment, of making films and working in public television for over 25 years, eschewed and actually turned down any opportunity to be involved in any other kind of commercial venture,” Burns said after a lecture he gave to the 223 travelers participating in Tauck’s Ken Burns Jazz Event.

“But there was something about what we saw in each other, what we recognized in each other. And maybe we bring it back to jazz, which is about recognition ... yo

Tauck

u cannot play unless you’re listening fully to the other and responding. There was some recognition that took place that was so interesting that we, my long-time collaborator Dayton Duncan and I, just could not help but dig in.”

But the question I had for the participants on the trip was how much the Ken Burns aspect of it contributed to their reason for booking.

What I discovered after traveling with them around New Orleans for several days, sightseeing, attending lectures and watching lots of live jazz together, was that their reason for coming was, for the most part, three-fold.

First off, many of the participants had either been on previous Tauck trips or had heard of Tauck, so they were already familiar with the Norwalk, Conn.-based tour operator.

Secondly, the topic of jazz was of interest to most in degrees varying from somewhat curious about the musical genre to downright fanatics and actual musicians.

Lastly, the Ken Burns element of the itinerary seemed to be what tipped the scale for many.

His name, and the reputation he has garnered through the informative and educational nature of his documentaries seemed to give the itinerary a certain validity beyond what it would have offered without the Ken Burns tag.

And, indeed, getting to hear and meet Burns (Burns walked around after his lecture, chatting with tour participants), was a highlight of the trip for most.

What Tauck does on special-event itineraries such as this one with a large number of participants is divide the itinerary into several tracks, so that the large group can be split into smaller groups. So, we all did the same thing, but, for instance, my group’s first day looked like another group’s third day.

Tauck tour - Natchez

For lectures or special events in which all the participants were invited, larger venues were selected.

Burns’ lecture, which was followed by a performance by Ellis Marsalis, was hosted at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. On the last evening, Tauck chartered the entire Natchez steamboat, for dinner and jazz performances on the Mississippi River.

This, unlike Tauck’s active-boomer brand Culturious, which averages about 16 travelers per departure, is not a small-group experience. This was all about access -- access to Burns, access to exceptional jazz performances, access to insightful lecturers.

One traveler told me it was like being back in college. I agree. In addition to the many awards and accolades Burns has received for his documentary film work, he also holds some two dozen honorary degrees. I kind of feel like all 223 of us now have an honorary minor in jazz history.

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Pop quiz: Who is the father of jazz? When and by whom was the first jazz recording? Who was the first composer to put jazz notes on paper? Email me at [email protected] if you think you know the answers and I’ll let you know if you’re right. No Googling!

For news on tour operations, wholesalers and river cruising, follow Michelle Baran on Twitter @mbtravelweekly 

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